More than 100,000 people from more than 1,000 churches united with a common purpose over a 48-hour period in April: to make a world of difference in ways both large and small. United Methodists from 13 countries and every state in the U.S. energetically worked to build community locally and fight malaria globally during Change the World weekend, April 24-25.
Congregations at local churches rolled up their sleeves and took to the streets to feed the hungry, aid the homeless, and visit the lonely – among numerous other projects. From stocking food pantries and cleaning school grounds to washing cars and renovating homes, people of faith reached out to a world outside the four walls of their own churches. They did it with work crews, talent shows, candlelight vigils, picnics, sleep-outs, food drives, and more.
"The people of The United Methodist Church were on a mission to change the world in a hands-on kind of way – and we made an impact," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications.
In fact, said Hollon, enthusiasm for the 2010 Change the World event was so great that it will become an annual event. "Churches are already gearing up for round two of Change the World," he said.
Mark your calendars now: Next year's event is scheduled for May 14-15, 2011.
The Change the World event was created as part of the Rethink Church campaign, by United Methodist Communications in partnership with the United Methodist Publishing House and Imagine No Malaria. The concept for Change the World originated with the Rev. Mike Slaughter, lead pastor at Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, and author of Change the World: Recovering the Message and Mission of Jesus.
"What we have discovered through our radically missional focus on changing the world is that people truly want to be part of something bigger than themselves . . . they just need to be asked," said Karen Smith, director of communications and global initiatives for Ginghamsburg Church.
"You throw out the challenge. Give them the opportunity. And they’re going to go for it," she said. "And they find out in the process that their own lives are just as much, or more transformed than those they are serving."
The 150-member congregation at Faith United Parish in Fitchburg, Massachusetts is one of the many congregations that took up the challenge. During Change the World, they worked with the local state college to paint and fix up an aging middle school in their community. The transformation included refurbishing an inoperable historic theater in the school that is once again being used for student productions.
"For us, Change the World was significant because we partnered with others in the community and were able to do far more together than we would have been able to do on our own," said the Rev. Justin Hildebrandt.
To aid churches in planning and promoting Change the World events, United Methodist Communications produced international resources in ten languages, sermon starters in five languages, and advertisements in three languages. Email blasts spread the word. Facebook posts told the stories. Tweets kept the ball rolling. Local news headlines heralded hometown events. And a Google Earth map regularly lit up with the location of churches, districts, and conferences as they signed on to commit to making the world a better place.
"The Change the World campaign has been a wonderfully amazing meeting point for vision and ministry," said Neil Alexander, president of the United Methodist Publishing House. "It links God's abundant love and hunger for justice with our calling to live simply so others may simply live."
In addition to undertaking the Change the World worldwide event, the denomination formally launched the Imagine No Malaria campaign on the afternoon of World Malaria Day, April 25, in Austin, Texas. More than 2,000 people turned out to celebrate, and many more joined in on line to help kick off continued efforts to eliminate death and suffering from malaria in Africa by 2015. With a goal of $75 million, Imagine No Malaria has already surpassed the $10 million milestone in giving for malaria. United Methodist Publishing House contributed $50,000 to Imagine No Malaria, representing 5 percent of Cokesbury sales from April 7-10.
Leading up to World Malaria Day, thousands of people attended events in Lubumbashi and Kamina in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they learned how to prevent malaria and responded to a call to use bed nets to save lives. Local community organizations expanded their efforts to prevent malaria by reaching people who had never before been provided bed nets, or instructed in how to use and care for the nets and ways to prevent malaria. The people of The United Methodist Church joined with partner organizations to distribute 30,000 insecticide-treated bed nets in the area.